BY JESSICA FALEIRO
In today’s fast-paced, modern society, urgency seems to be the norm. Rapid advancements in technology, instant access to information and the growth of a results-oriented society have collectively contributed to the rise of what is widely known as ‘Urgency Culture.’ This culture is characterised by an addiction to immediate responses, the glorification of multitasking and the expectation of constant availability.
While urgency culture in India existed even before, it rose dramatically during the pandemic when isolation and remote working placed undue burdens on employees to deliver more, faster and be more easily accessible, even beyond their usual working hours.
Among the impacts of urgency culture are increased anxiety and stress, especially for those with little to no emotional management skills to manage it. Research on mental health has established that there is more professional and personal burnout happening than ever before. In addition, the rise of urgency culture strips away our ability to do meaningful work as we continue to value quantity over quality.
For example, India’s professional landscape equates long working hours with high productivity. However, many management gurus, thought leaders and self-help books emphasise that the true measure of productivity lies in the quality of output rather than the sheer quantity of hours put in.
As a published novelist and writer, I had to learn the art of slowing down in order to be better at my craft. Deliberate day-dreaming required the re-wiring of my neural pathways in order to detach from urgency culture for the benefit of my own well-being. It’s taken me over a decade of letting go of a long list of things, including the illusion of being needed by people who are constantly on the end of a phone ringing me. My phone is now on silent.
Those who need to get in touch, message me. I check my messages when I am in between work tasks, and respond when I can, not when others believe that they need me to. That’s how I protect my energy, which is invaluable and contributes directly to the quality of my work product, or the task at hand. Good writing is difficult work, that requires focus and concentration for long periods of time.
As a project manager, I learned that if you go long enough without responding to your staff for about 80 per cent of the time, they sort out the issue themselves. Provide them with job skills training, and you’ll get fewer calls. In addition to preserving your time and lowering your anxiety, this empowers your staff by building up their confidence in handling things themselves. You have to let go of your perfectionist need to have things done your way, but they get done. The trick is to understand which calls you need to answer 20 per cent of the time so that disaster doesn’t ensue.
I’ve also gotten much better at laying down boundaries and letting people know about them. For instance, I won’t take calls at certain times of the day, unless they’re from my inner circle of friends, certain family members or for appointments and deliveries. It helps that I don’t have a massive ego that needs to be stroked by the constant attention of strangers, or require validation from everyone.
If you are a caregiver or have dependents directly reliant on you, that’s a different dynamic that you have to manage. Assign different ringtones that penetrate the ‘silent’ filter, so you can answer emergency calls.
This transfers across into my engagement with digital platforms and social media. There’s a reason the term ‘digital detox’ is a buzzword. I even have friends with apps that shut down the use of social media apps on their phone at certain times, to preserve their mental health. The overuse of social media is directly connected to an increase in depression, anxiety and insomnia. Personally speaking, I do not want technology and devices to rule my life. They are tools meant to enhance it, that’s all. If they’re stripping away at my mental health or emotional well-being, that means I’ve given inanimate tools power and control over my life, and I will do what it takes to restore balance.
Other boundaries I’ve gotten good at is saying ‘No, thank you,’ to things that will cost me labour with no returns, whether this is physical, emotional, monetary or other. The best part about practising laying down your boundaries is that you notice how many friends, colleagues or even close relationships disappear when you stop saying yes to everything. It’s tough to realise that they preferred you without boundaries, agreeing to their every request, when they needed it, at the cost of your own emotional well-being. But, in the long run, you clear the path for better relationships with people that respect and value you more. Clear communication of your boundaries is key, and needs to be frequent. It’s a learning curve, but absolutely worth your time.
These are just a few practices that protect my time, allow me to focus on my priorities and have made me become a much better writer, but I also acknowledge that I have a very long way to go.
Now, I value friendships with people who understand the value of deliberately slowing down in order to savour the one life that they have to live, and are able to find a balance with how they attach to the need to be productive. The few tips I outlined above have helped me manage my life better in order to increase my own well-being and yes, do come at various costs and consequences that I’ve learned how to live with, but I should also add that it’s taken a lifetime of learning to get to this place. The key thing is to acknowledge what you want and if it’s more balance and well-being, to start yourself on a trajectory that will get you there.